Dynamics of nitrogen and dissolved organic carbon at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest

Jason A. Dittman, Charles T. Driscoll, Peter M. Groffman, Timothy J. Fahey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


The factors controlling spatial and temporal patterns in soil solution and streamwater chemistry are highly uncertain in northern hardwood forest ecosystems in the northeastern United States, where concentrations of reactive nitrogen (Nr) in streams have surprisingly declined over recent decades in the face of persistent high rates of atmospheric Nr deposition and aging forests. Reactive nitrogen includes inorganic species (e.g., ammonium [NH 4+], nitrate [NO3-]) and some organic forms (e.g., amino acids) available to support the growth of plants and microbes. The objective of this study was to examine controls on the spatial and temporal patterns in the concentrations and fluxes of nitrogen (N) species and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in a 12-year record of soil solutions and streamwater along an elevational gradient (540-800 m) of a forested watershed at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF) in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, USA. Dissolved organic N and DOC concentrations were elevated in the high-elevation spruce-fir-white birch (SFB) zone of the watershed, while NO 3- was the dominant N species in the lower elevation hardwood portion of the watershed. Within the soil profile, N retention was centered in the mineral horizon, and significant amounts of N were retained between the lower mineral soil and the stream, supporting the idea that near- and in-stream processes are significant sinks for N at the HBEF. Temporal analysis suggested that hydrologic flow paths can override both abiotic and biotic retention mechanisms (i.e., during the non-growing season when most hydrologic export occurs, or during years with high rainfall), there appears to be direct flushing of N from the organic horizons into the stream via horizontal flow. Significant correlations between soil NO3- concentrations, nitrification rates and streamwater NO3- exports show the importance of biological production as a regulator of inorganic N export. The lack of internal production response (e.g., mineralization, nitrification) to a severe ice storm in 1998 reinforces the idea that plant uptake is the dominant regulator of export response to disturbance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1153-1166
Number of pages14
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Dissolved organic carbon
  • Dissolved organic nitrogen
  • Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest
  • Nitrate
  • Nitrogen
  • Soil solution
  • Streamwater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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